Qatar

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Introduction to Qatar

It only began issuing tourist visas in 1989, but after a slow start Qatar has begun to reap the benefits of its new openness. Visitors are welcomed to a land of glitzy new hotels, towering sand dunes, ancient rock carvings and distinctive architecture.

Best known for being unknown, Qatar has a habit of falling off the world's radar. Most foreign maps of Arabia drawn before the 19th century don't show the Qatar peninsula, and most people in the West don't even know where it is. Fewer still can pronounce it (somewhere between 'cutter' and 'gutter').

Full country name: State of Qatar

Area: 11,400 sq km

Population: 800,000

Capital City: Doha

People: Arab 40%, Pakistani 18%, Indian 18%, Iranian 10%

Language: Arabic, English, Urdu

Religion: Islam

GDP: US$12 billion

GDP per capita: US$17,100

Annual Growth: 3%

Inflation: 1%

Major Industries: Oil production and refining, fertilisers, petrochemicals, steel, cement

Major Trading Partners: Japan, EU, Singapore, South Korea

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Everyone except nationals of other Gulf States needs a visa to enter Qatar. Embassies and large hotels within the country can sponsor visas. Israeli passport holders are not allowed in Qatar.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +3

Dialling Code: 974

Electricity: 240V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Qatar's holidays are primarily Islamic. The big one is Ramadan, a month when everyone fasts between sunrise and sunset to conform to the fourth pillar of Islam. Ramadan ends with a huge feast, Eid al-Fitr, during which everyone prays together, visits friends, gives presents and stuffs themselves silly. Eid al-Adha, held around March, is the other big feast of the year, marking the time when Muslims should make the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca. Qatar's only non-religious holiday is National Day, in the first week of September.

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Best time to Visit

Because the heat is so fierce in the summer and sandstorms are so common in spring and winter, the best time to visit is November or late February to early March. During these times you are most likely to enjoy bearable temperatures with a minimum of wind.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Qatari Riyal

Meals

Budget: QR10-20

Mid-range: QR20-55

High: QR55-80

Deluxe: QR80+

Lodging

Budget: QR80-200

Mid-range: QR200-300

High: QR300-600

Deluxe: QR600+

On an absolutely rock-bottom budget, you might be able to travel in Qatar for about US$30 a day. This assumes you can get a tourist visa through a Qatari embassy. Otherwise, the least expensive hotel that sponsors visas charges about US$90 a night. Figure on about US$60-75 a day for a mid-range budget. For a top-end place to stay and top-end meals, be prepared to spend at least US$100 a day.

Moneychangers provide slightly better exchange rates than banks, though changing travellers' cheques at a moneychanger can be a trying experience - each one seems to accept a different brand of cheques than the others. Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs easy to find.

A service charge is usually added to restaurant bills in Qatar but this rarely goes to the waiter. Local custom doesn't require that you leave an additional tip after a meal, though it's appreciated if you do. The traditional shops where serious bargaining used to take place are becoming rare in Qatar, though you can almost always negotiate a small discount on the price of electronic goods, rental cars and hotel rooms.

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Attractions

Doha

Around the Gulf, Doha has earned the unenviable reputation of being the dullest place on earth. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who'll claim the place is exciting. That said, there's nothing wrong with Doha - you're unlikely to get shot or mugged or die from cholera.

The bay is pleasant and there are enough interesting sites around town to keep you occupied for a day or two. Doha is also the only place in Qatar with hotels (and an airport), so even if you're travelling around the country, you'll be stopping through here.

Umm Salal Ali

This town, 40km (25mi) north of Doha, is famous for its field of grave mounds. The mounds are very old, probably dating from the 3rd millennium BC (archaeologists assume that, as Islam forbids cairn burials, these mounds must be from pre-Islamic times).

Umm Salal Mohammed

The first town north of Doha, Umm Salal Mohammed's raison-d'Ítre is its fort, which is open when someone is around to unlock the door (mornings are your best bet). It's a relatively small, whitewashed rectangular building with two towers, one of which rises to a height of four storeys.

Near the fort is a small mosque with an old minaret that has recently been restored to its original state, and some ruined mud-brick fortifications. While there's not a lot going for it, Umm Salal Mohammed is only 25km (15mi) from Doha, so is worth a stop if you're heading north.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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